Our world has been home to some incredible talented filmmakers. While a unique and interesting voice is a common trait in all of them there is one director in particular that has had an unique and rather interesting path.
All artist have their ups and downs in their career but in a general sense they evolve, they become more mature, interesting and experience storytellers. But what if i told you there is one that did the opposite… He started at the top, as high as top can go, and then just kept on going down …
Who is this man?… Maybe you have guessed it… it is… M. Night Shyamalan. Let’s have a look at his career.
M. Night Shyamalan was born in india and grew up in the Philadelphia area. Both parents where doctors. He started making movies at age 8 with a super-8 camera. He then Produced two feature films “ Praying with Anger” and “Wide Awake” , both very low budget and a bit under the radar. So far nothing really extraordinary, but this is where it gets very interesting.
So his next (and first studio) film that he wrote and directed with super start Bruce Willis was called “ The Sixth Sense”, Some people call it a master piece. Night was only 29! The film was a huge box office and dvd success in both American and foreign markets alike. Critics and audiences could not get enough of the movie and It even got nominated for some oscars. The director has said that his goal is to try to create cultural phenomena’s … and I surly did it with his first studio film.
So still in his 20’s he was suddenly placed at the top of the hollywood world, but It seemed that all the fame and money did not went to his head. Even thou he was being called the “new Spielberg” (his idol) he continued living in Philadelphia with his wife and only travelled to the “seductive” Los Angeles town when it was absolutely necessary.
His next film came out right away, a very accomplish film on it’s own merit called “Unbreakable” ( Tarantino has it on his top 10 of the decade) .
Personally it is my least favourite of his first 4 studio films, but still a very good piece of cinema and entertainment. ( I’ve owned the special Dvd edition for years and years) It did not received the attention of his previous movie… but again no other movie would for a few years. It was very well received by critics and audiences. The myth continued growing.
Jus a couple of years later “ Signs” was playing at the theatres. Great reception … people where loving it, it made a ton of money (almost paid for it self on the opening week end) and it was very influential for many filmmakers, including being the inspiration and force that drove Joe Cornish to make “Attack the Block” a very well received movie also.
Shyamalan the conquerer … He came, he saw he conquer. The young writer, director and producer had the world at his feet.
And again… just a couple of years later his next film was playing. “The Village” some people argue that this is where things started to change for him… It has been theorised, by the filmmaker himself, that this was due to the marketing campaign. The movie was advertised as a “Scary movie” with monsters and things like that, and even thou there are monsters it is above all, a love story. However I do not agree one bit when it comes to “this is where he started to lose it” . I personally think that it is a master piece, a great great film with an incredible cast. An excellent story with complex metaphors, beautifully shot and just mastered in every technical department. Despite the fact that some people like this movie less, it still did well in the box office, his name was above the title and some people (like me) hold this piece of art in very high regard.
However this is where it started to change … For the first time we waited 4 years for his next work.
When he first presented the script to studio executives he got a surprising reaction… they where not interested in making this movie… not like it was in the scrip anyways. He was beyond shocked, after all he has had his name above the title for a few movies now… and how can you say no to the “new Spielberg” ? He took it personally and instead of listening to what people had to say he just went and looked for money elsewhere. He managed to get funded. The film ended up having a 70 million budget ( 30 million more than “The Sixth Sense”). I believe that most of the times artist should not listen to random suits… And I do admire him for that. He wanted to tell this story like this and he did so. The problem is you can sort of see his desire to express his particular vision takes priority from the story it self. And maybe a very personal movie benefits from having a waller budget.
The result?… Well… the movie alienated audiences and critics alike and it grossed only 42 million in the american box office (just above half of his cost) What happened? People where asking. Maybe this is just a anomaly in his career, maybe he wanted to make a very personal and peculiar movie with a huge studio budget ( something that very few are ever able to do and hence deserves respect) He will be back in full strength for the next one. “Lady in the water” can become a cult classic with the years… let’s see what he makes next?….
What he did next was what shocked everybody.
After the “Lady in the Water” incident the Director found it more difficult to get his next movie funded. He made the wise decision of making it lower budget than his previous films at 48 millions, the lowest he had since “The Sixth Sense”. He got the money and the talent together and started production.
“The Happening” was a true disappointment, specially considering that it would be his come back. Technically the film looks amateurish at some points, Mark Walhbert gives what is probably the worst performance of his career. He was quoted saying that playing in “The Happening” was a mistake. Critics destroyed the film and currently it has a 5 note on IMDB. A 5 note film by the guy that 9 years prior had done the most talked and loved film of the time. And to make it worst he still had his name above the title remaining people that he was responsible for this mess.
In the space of two movies Night had gone from hollywood darling to someone people made fun at.
He had his biggest budget ever to date, 150 millions. And for the first time he got his hands into some property who had a fan base already created.
“The Last Airbender” was a total disaster. To this day I am yet to find someone who likes the movie. Audiences hated it, fans of the source material hated it, critics hated it with a passion … it has a 4 note on IMDB. It lost money and send Night’s name deep into the downward spiral it was in.
Then comes “ After Earth” Starring Will Smith and his soon. It is a very poorly executed piece of mainstream, pop corn entertainment. And it was a fiasco on all levels, again.
How can this happen? How can someone with his talent and big budgets make such mediocre films? I think it is truly interesting to study this curious case.
Personally I hope he comes back to is peak shape and give to the world tip top pieces of cinema. He seems that he might be on the right track. He is a producer and directed the pilot of the excellent Tv series “ Wayward Pines “ And did a 5 million horror film “The Visit” that was well received and made a lot of money.
But how could this happen? Going from the top of the world to the depths of the underworld for with no ape rent reason?
Let me know what you think…